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Valley People (November 24, 2021)

EVEN THE WILDLIFE seems unpredictable these days. Beth Swehla's mini-farm at the high school was raided by a mountain lion, the first in-town such attack I can remember. Beth writes, “Hope you are on alert for mountain lions. We had two goats killed and had one injured at the school farm overnight (Tuesday). There have been lots of livestock attacks in the valley recently. Pay attention!”

COVID has cancelled the half-century-old Redwood Classic, the Redwood Empire's oldest basketball tournament, so AVHS's first game of this year's hoop season will be Friday night’s varsity only game against Tomales in distant Tomales. Luis Espinoza is boys coach, Matt Bullington assistant coach. Justin Rhoades is coaching the girls team.

ASSUMING covid will someday end and the Redwood Classic resumes, the tourney's interim absence presents a perfect opportunity to re-do it as a purely local event, three days of basketball without the hotshot teams from the Bay Area's private schools who have walked off with the big trophy for years now. Locals want locals. Only the administrative sloth of previous school regimes saddled us with outside-the-area teams, it being simpler to invite the same schools year after year to play the same brackets year after year.

HOW ABOUT a tournament composed of teams from the Emerald Triangle only? Or, better yet, Mendo, Lake and HumCo only? Attendance at the Redwood Classic has been down for years. Us rural hoops fans have zero interest in watching Marin County powerhouse Branson, say, sadistically humiliate Boonville or some other hapless small school by 50 points. Or that LA private school heavy with Division One college recruits? Who cares? 

I DON'T PRETEND to speak for locals, but I have spoken to enough of them to know my opinion is widely shared. We want an annual basketball tournament composed of high school teams from only the Emerald Triangle, and no jokes, please, about the All Doobie Team. 

THERE HAVE BEEN YEARS when Boonville could run with the big dogs, and occasionally Boonville produces a group of hoopsters who can hold its own with big schools, assuming a big school from the Emerald Triangle dares risk taking on Boonville or Point Arena or Laytonville or Covelo. (Boonville beat Ukiah twice one year, and Ukiah has refused to play a small school ever since. Farther back, Boonville ran SoCo powerhouse Cardinal Newman clear out of the Boonville gym. And I remember a Point Arena team featuring the Oropeza brothers who could have given anybody trouble. Anyway, Down with Branson!

SPORTS FANS would appear in droves for an annual, all-Northcoast high school basketball tournament. They will continue to stay away in droves if half the teams in the tournament are from far, far away.

Mosaic Arch, Boonville Community Park

REBECCA JOHNSON WRITES: "Sweet to see my mosaic arch! 2005? Created this with help from community friends, donations from local businesses a small grant from the Boonville education foundation, two wonderful high school interns and a dedicated helper Linda McClure. Two summers of hard back breaking labor. Welded steel armature, cement, ceramic mosaic. A good memory!"

SETTLING in to watch the Niners Monday night, I suddenly wondered how the great Fort Bragg quarterback, Kaylor Sullivan, had done post-Fort Bragg. I'd seen him several years ago when overmatched Fort Bragg played Marin Catholic at MC's Kentfield stadium. FB stayed with MC most of the first half as Sullivan picked apart MC defense. It was a hot fall afternoon and MC, as always, fielded a large roster of kids who, for years now, go on to play at the college level, and Fort Bragg was inexorably worn down by fresh waves off MC's inexhaustible bench. Sullivan showed that afternoon that he could compete at a high level. So I asked Fort Bragg's go-to sports guy, Lindy Peters, where Sullivan had played after Fort Bragg. Lindy replied, “He got some good playing time at SRJC with his former long-time teammate from Fort Bragg Lucas Triplett. He was the best high school QB I ever saw and that includes John Paye (Menlo Park) and Craig Bergman (Cloverdale) who both played college football at the Division 1 level.” 

THE COUNTY OF MENDOCINO works in mysterious ways. I remember an outside lawyer emerging from the County Courthouse asking, “What the hell just happened in there?” Counselor, I said, the Green Curtain falls just north of Cloverdale, and all rationality can end abruptly north of the Cloverdale city limits.

AS A NEWSPAPER OWNER in an irrational time and place, I belong to a soft legion of the doomed, slow walking into techno obsolescence. The redoubtable Shari Schapmire, County Treasurer-Tax Collector, has priced the value of my business at $20.03. I've wondered since I paid up in August how Shari arrived at that figure, and what would she have done if I rounded off my remittance to an even $20? 

THERE was an interesting documentary on KQED the other night, interesting especially I would think to those of us still publishing a paper-paper in a country where few people, fewer by the day, read a paper-paper. I was all eyes and ears for the 90 minutes of the film as it tracked the fading ‘Storm Lake Times,’ a twice-weekly paper in an Iowa town of about 11,000. The paper's doomed efforts of its editor, Art Cullen, a Pulitzer Prize winner, to keep his paper alive and its nine staffers employed, three of them members of his family, made for some occasionally painful viewing. The man is intrepid, but a blurb at the end said he joined a couple of other life-support papers as a non-profit.

CULLEN'S PAPER, viewed from my Mendo experience, seems much like the South Coast's ICO, a struggling weekly that has stooped (imo) to printing a weekly roster of his advertisers publisher Steve McLaughlin calls “heroes.” I've always drawn the line at describing ava advertisers as “death defying,” but McLaughlin employs a half-dozen people and supports himself and his family out of what diminished proceeds he can wring out of his publication. The guy's rather a hero himself for keeping on. But dependence on the petit bourgeoisie, the most timid people in any community who themselves are terrified of public opinion, limits big time what a publisher can print.

TOTING UP the number of people who derive at least some income from the ava, excluding our contributing writers, and considered as a business, I also come up with 9 people employed to greater or lesser degree, which is the number of people employed by the Storm Lake Times. 

I LOVE SHOUTING at publicly employed people, “Have you ever met a payroll?” I haven't either, strictly speaking, since myself and my colleague, The Major, work uncompensated except for random shots of ava-supplied Maker's Mark.

THE STORM LAKE paper is published out of the gutted downtown we find everywhere in America. The small businesses that used to support small town papers are gone to Walmarts and CostCo's, so Mr. Cullen finds himself without the life juice of a newspaper, its advertising.

YEARS AGO the late Ed Kowas, an on-the-lam judge who'd fled rural Indiana with money that didn't belong to him and had, of course, landed in Mendocino County, where you are whatever you say you are and history starts all over again every day. I was very fond of Ed and, when he was finally and inevitably busted by the FBI, I was as startled by his back story as everyone else — doubly startled because Ed had presided for several years as host for a KMFB talk show, and so much for the FBI sleuthing prowess. (If ever a police agency was more overrated than these… Ed Kowalski had become Ed Kowas. We might have a clue there, Agent Johnson.)

ANYWAY, ED ASKED ME on the air one morning, “Seriously, how is the ava funded? You don't have many ads and everyone hates you?” I said I was hated by all the right people and the paper was funded by Moscow gold. Ed wondered, “You mean you're funded by communists?”

THE AVA, from my iteration of it in January of '84, was pegged to the kamikaze strategy of publishing a paper I myself could read without wincing — I'm all wince at this point — and also pegged to the Mendocino County social-political reality of selling a weekly paper to a wildly diverse population, everyone from people who know how to pronounce paradigm — “par-a-dig-um”— to people who rightly condemn people who know how to say it. I figured I'd last a few months and be outtahere.

FROM its stormy first weeks until its stormy days of November 2021, the ava has largely depended on a combination of subscriptions, stand sales, a few legal ads and, lately, a growing roster of internet subscribers. (The “liberal” board of supervisors a few years ago even tried to knock out the paper's legals, a costly battle I lost at the appellate level but didn't quite succeed in denying me this particular revenue stream. That appellate loss — my second at the appellate level— left me with a total contempt for California's appellate judges as a gang of featherbedding, cretinous political appointees — Democrats, of course. If you're downtown in SF around the Civic Center some time, pop in for a look at appellate headquarters. The Saudi royal family doesn't even begin to understand “lavish.”) 

AS IT MIRACULOUSLY always has, the ava pays its bills, but paper-paper subscribers are dying off, the newsstands and book stores from Frisco to Arcata we used to depend on have mostly disappeared, and I'm at the days-numbered end of the actuarial tables, as is The Major. As are my colleagues at the surviving paper-papers of Mendocino County. As a print person, I'm reconciled to extinction, but I don't like it.

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